To wax or not to wax: that is the question!

Susan Mulvihill, February 2010


For years, my husband and I have used waxless skis. Sure, we've seen other skiers at Selkirk Lodge putting wax on their skis and have heard the “K” word (klister) being bandied about. But we loved our waxless skis – Fischer Superlights, to be exact – because they were easy. If conditions were warm and wet, we would wipe on a Maxiglide or Toko paste wax to get extra glide but for the most part, you just jump on them and go.

Several years ago, some friends of ours let us swap skis with them on a particularly great day for skiing. This was a day when all of the planets were in alignment: we‟d gotten fresh snow, it was about 22 degrees, and our friends had chosen the perfect wax for the day.

     An amazing thing happened: my ski technique immediately improved. I did a better job of transferring my weight from one ski to the other. My confidence level rose. And I liked what I was feeling underneath my feet! There was no slipping and sliding. It was also very quiet: I was used to hearing the sound of the scales on my waxless skis scraping on the snow but that noise was gone. The hardest part was letting our friends have their skis back, although I suppose they were more than happy to give us back our waxless skis. That day made an impact on me and I decided to step up to the next level by getting some wax-able skis and trying my hand at waxing to increase my enjoyment on our ski outings.

     Before I continue, I should clarify the difference between waxless and waxable skis. Waxless skis have smooth glide zones on their tips and tails, and scales on the kick zones underneath our boots. Those scales help us move along the trail no matter how strong (or wimpy) our kicks are, and they help us climb hills on the trails. However, unless you use good technique – by doing weight shifts from ski to ski and making the most of your kick and glide – it‟s easy to settle into a shuffle while using waxless skis.

     Waxable skis, on the other hand, won't let you do that. The entire base of each ski is smooth so there are no scales to rely on. It is the waxing process that gives you your kick and glide. A glide wax is ironed onto the glide zones and a kickwax is applied to the kick zones. If you have chosen a kickwax that is appropriate for the day‟s weather conditions, life is good. There isn't room here to go into depth about how to do that but kickwaxes are rated for a range of temperatures, based on whether the snow is new or transformed. Transformed snow has gone through freeze-and-thaw cycles. Waxing is certainly challenging and you don‟t always get it right… but when you do, it is awesome.

     As I started learning how to wax our skis, I would ask anyone and everyone about their waxing techniques. I quickly learned that if you ask five different skiers about this, you will get five different answers! But I've learned a lot and get it right about 75% of the time.

     I should mention, however, that there are some days where “getting it right” is just about impossible. Maybe it‟s about 32 degrees with a wet snow falling. Those are days when you might as well use your waxless skis because the bases of waxable skis will probably ice up and rob you of your glide.

     One thing I wanted to clarify is that, despite their name, waxless skis should still have wax applied to them. The bases of skis are porous and shouldn't be allowed to dry out. Glide wax should be applied to the glide zones of the skis – but not to the scales – for best results.

     I also mentioned the “K” word. Klister is a sticky substance that works great, especially for icy or wet conditions, early or late in the season. Klister comes in tubes and is a pain in the neck to work with. Recently, wax manufacturers have come up with a spray klister that is much easier to use and works quite well. I like to use a spray base klister and apply the kickwax of the day over it.

     If this discussion of wax piques your curiosity, why not give it a try? Fitness Fanatics (12425 E. Sprague Ave., 922-6080) has a complete line of waxing supplies. They are great about giving waxing advice to help you be successful.

Spokane Nordic is committed to creating, developing and delivering programs to foster Nordic skiing
within the greater Spokane Community through efforts of organization, advocacy, and communication.

Spokane Nordic Ski Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

P.O. Box 501, Spokane, WA, 99210

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